Bridgerton arrived with a bang on Netflix just before the close of 2020, pulling in an astounding 82 million households over the course of its first month. Now, the show contends for twelve Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.
Awards Radar had the chance to speak with series creator Chris Van Dusen, a veteran of Shonda Rhimes projects like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, about taking the reins, adapting a fantastic book series, and what appeals to him most about this wonderful world.
Q: This show is such a popular hit. Did you ever envision this kind of reception before the show came to be?
A: I always hoped that people would like it, but I never expected this kind of reception. It’s a little surreal. It’s really humbling. It’s make me so proud of everyone involved, and I have such tremendous gratitude.
Q: What was the genesis of your involvement?
A: I fell in love with these books the moment that I first read them. I found them funny and emotional and sexy and sensual. It all came with this incredibly charming family at the center of everything. I’ve always loved the period genre, I’ve always loved a good period show, everything from the sets to the costumes to the society where everything is so rife with conflict. But at the same time, I think they’re considered a little traditional. What really got me excited about adapting these novels, from the beginning, was the idea of being to create the period show I’ve always wanted to see. That wasn’t ever going to look or feel like any period show I had ever seen before.
Q: How important was it for you to stay faithful to the books?
A: With any adaptation, there’s always going to be differences between the source material and the series. For me, it was all about opening up the world. I didn’t just want the series to be about the Bridgertons. I wanted it to be about an entire society, an entire world. So I added a bunch of new characters and stories. I also knew that I wanted to explore themes that aren’t really found in the books, like race. I wanted to find a way for race to be as much a part of the series as things like class and gender and sexuality are. One of the first things I did for the series was create the character of Queen Charlotte. She’s not in the books. She’s original to the world of the show. That’s really from the theory I had learned about Queen Charlotte being the first queen of color. I’d say that was the moment that the show really came into focus for me, as far as being a colorful world. Multi-hued, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, where the color of your skin didn’t determine whether you were highborn or if you were lowborn. The spirit of the books are definitely found in the series. It’s also quite different, I would say.
Q: It’s very interesting what you do with characters of color where race doesn’t really get spoken about. I know you’ve said it’s not a colorblind show. What terminology do you like to use?
A: Color-conscious. We don’t really say that this show is colorblind because that implies that color and race were never considered, and I don’t think that’s true for the show.
Q: What is your working relationship with Shonda Rhimes like, and how did her vision of the show influence yours?
A: I’ve worked in Shondaland for a really long time, about seventeen years. Shonda herself has been so supportive. The two of us, we have a shorthand and we share a lot of the same sensibilities. I think that allows her to feel comfortable stepping back in order to give me the creative room and freedom to really make the period show I’ve always wanted to see.
Q: You’re not British but everyone else is. Do you feel you bring a distinctly American perspective to this world, and is that something that matters?
A: I do. I think that being American has allowed me to look at this world from the outside in, and it’s probably allowed me to feel more comfortable taking certain liberties in the show. But at the end of the day, I think that Bridgerton is a universal show. It’s relatable to so many people across the world. It always come down to character for me, and Bridgerton is very much a show about smart, funny, tortured people. Their lives are messy, their love lives are even messier. These are men and women figuring out who they are. It’s women finding their agency. It’s men and women learning how to love and how to have relationships. It’s those kind of characters that I’ve always been drawn to, in all the shows I’ve worked on. They’re the kind of characters I work hard to bring to life and make sure that they feel real. I don’t think that matters if I’m American or British or not, really.
Q: Do you think that the show has been received differently in the US versus the UK?
A: I wouldn’t say that’s accurate. From everything that I’ve been seeing and the feedback, it’s been really great across the board. Again, it has something that I could have anticipated and has made me so proud to be a part of.
Q: What’s your favorite moment from season one?
A: Oh, I have so many moments from season one. There’s the moment at the end of the first episode after Daphne and Simon have concocted their ruse, and they walk out to the middle of the dance floor, supported by all these artists doing this incredible choreographed dance, and they’re dancing under the sea of fireworks in the sky. A lot of those fireworks are practical, and we saw them during shooting. I just remember being there in Video Village. It was about 5am in the middle of the countryside, and I was just watching Daphne and Simon do their dance, and it was magical. There was something really electric and palpable there. I got the chills that day that we were shooting, and every time that I see the scene, which now has to be over a thousand times. I get the chills each and every time I watch it.
Q: Do you have a favorite character, or is that impossible to choose?
A: It’s impossible to choose. I love them all for different reasons. I can tell you that I have a lot of fun writing the queen, because she’s an original character and I think she’s just fabulous. And then Lady Whistledown, of course. Writing the voiceover of the show is some of the most fun I have during the writing process.
Q: It’s been publicized that your Emmy-nominated star Regé-Jean Page won’t be back for season two. Is it possible that may change, or is that a hard-and-fast thing that his story is done, and moving on to other things?
A: I think that something that I’ve been really clear about is that Simon was always intended to have a one-season arc. It’s part of why I was so drawn to the project, that every season we get to focus on a new love story, and have new characters and new worlds. That means I can actually give my characters what they deserve in terms of happily ever afters, instead of having to create all these fake reasons to keep them apart for the sake of continuing the story season after season. That was something that was really unique to the project that I found really refreshing.
Q: You’re in charge, so what are you allowed to say about season two? What can you preview that would be exciting for readers to hear about season two?
A: I can’t say much. I’ve been trying to think of a word to describe the season. I think the best way to describe it is charged. Season two follows Anthony Bridgerton’s journey, and we’ll see some really amazing, compelling, charged things with him and his love interest, Kate Sharma, next season. I can’t wait for audiences to hear Julie Andrews back again as the voice of Lady Whistledown. With the big reveal at the end of the season, it’s been really interesting for us in the writers’ room to explore this whole other side of the Lady Whistledown operation. I don’t want to spoil it, but audiences will get to see how the sausage is made, and how the person responsible manages it all. It’s not easy. It is, at the end of the day, a pretty glorious thing. It’s also Eloise’s first official season out on the marriage market. Eloise is obviously still going to be Eloise. She’s been dreading this day her entire life, but that’s also something that we had a lot of fun with in the writers’ room as far as looking at that and coming up with ways for Eloise to deal with and grapple with that too.
Q: You’ve done a lot with Shonda, but most of it has been on network television. My mom, who is a fan of the show, wanted me to ask – in this forum where the content didn’t need to be as censored or edited, was elevating and showing things something you wanted to do because you could do it with Netflix?
A: Absolutely. It’s no secret that we’re inspired by eight really delicious romance novels. That was something I was really excited to lean into from the beginning and make the experience of watching the show not to be so different from the experience of reading one of those romance novels. As far as these sex scenes, dangerous and a little bit of a wild ride at times, leaving viewers a little hot and bothered and breathless. That was something we loved the show for, and something we had a lot of fun with. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of our intimacy coordinators. We had a team of amazing intimacy coordinators on set. Each one of those intimate scenes was really choreographed and planned ahead of time, much like a stunt sequence would be. What it was really about was making sure that our actors felt comfortable at the end of the day, that they knew what was going to be expected of them, they knew exactly what they would have to do when they walk into that room, and nothing was left up to chance. Everything was planned, and thought out ahead of time, with the help of our intimacy coordinators. That’s really how I think of it.
Q: I assume those intimacy coordinators were a bit more qualified than the ones portrayed on Saturday Night Live?
A: [laughter] Yes. Yes, they were.
Q: This show is in great competition at the Emmys. Do you watch any of the shows you’re nominated against, and do you have any favorites?
A: I do watch all of them. I think we’re in some really great company this year. Choosing one of them is a lot like choosing my favorite character on this show. I think it would be incredibly difficult. It’s really humbling, looking at all these other shows. I think they’re all really spectacular and deserving.
Season one of Bridgerton is streaming exclusively on Netflix.